Labor Negotiations Between NLMK, Steelworkers Stall

FARRELL, Pa. – Labor contract negotiations between NLMK Pennsylvania and United Steelworkers Local 1016-03 are at a stalemate after the union has rejected the company’s latest offer.

In a full-page advertisement published in the Sharon Herald earlier this week, Local 1016-03 Unit President Jim Wells criticized NLMK over tying a wage increase to a health insurance plan with a higher deductible, a plan members have previously rejected. Local 1016-03 represents 550 workers at NLMK’s Farrell plant. 

“Our members believe that their costs will be increased under the company’s proposed plan to the point that they will not be able to afford necessary medical care and that their take-home pay will be diminished by the costs of the plan,” Wells said in the letter.

On Friday, the Herald reported NLMK Pennsylvania President Bob Miller called the advertisement “surprising and disappointing” and said the contract was the company’s “last and final offer.”

“I’m very surprised they would do this given what the economy is like now and all of the things happening with COVID-19,’’ Miller said. “We are offering a very good contract. Obviously the [union] leadership is leading these tactics.”

Miller said the company’s proposal includes an automatic signing bonus of $3,000 for all union workers and a pay increase of roughly $3 per hour over the life of the four-year contract. The increased would raise the average union wage at the plant to $28.65 per hour.

For health care, Miller said the company is offering the option of a preferred provider organization, or PPO, plan with no deductibles and low copays. A family health-care plan would cost workers $185 per month for the first year – the same cost as the current plan – but that amount would increase $50 per year for the next three years of the contract.

Also available to workers is a high-deductible plan with no premiums. The family plan would include a $3,000 deductible with maximum annual out-of-pocket costs of $4,500. In that plan, NLMK will create a health-care account, depositing $2,350 for the first three years and $1,550 in the final year. 

Wells said the United Steelworkers Local has asked for specific information about the plans but has received no response.

“They’ve never said they were losing money,’’ Wells told the Herald. “And we’ve never asked them to open up their books. We’re just asking for information, like how much money they will save with these new insurance plans.’’

NLMK Pennsylvania is a subsidiary of Russian steelmaker NLMK. Tariffs put in place by the Trump Administration in March 2018 forced the Farrell plant to buy steel from sources other than its parent company, Miller said, noting that the company has paid $170 million for steel since the tariffs were enacted. In December, the plant laid off 100 workers and 35 salaried positions as a result of the tariffs.

“We’re trying not to pay tariffs,’’ Miller said. “We’re buying slabs out of Brazil but we can’t buy enough there to cover our needs.’’

Union members in March voted to allow leadership to call a strike if negotiations reach an impasse. They have been working under the existing contract since it expired in April.

Both Wells and Miller have said the two sides are willing to continue talks, but the NLMK Pennsylvania president said the company will stand pat on its offer.

Related Coverage

Dec. 4, 2019: Layoffs at NLMK Raise Concerns, Frustrations

April 30, 2019: Commerce Department Denies Tariff Exclusions for NLMK

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